With our aging population, the demand for skilled nurses is expected to increase in coming years, including in the advanced nursing practice specialties, such as nurse anesthetists.
Certified registered nurse anesthetists, or CRNAs, administer an estimated 60 percent of all anesthetics given in the United States. They are required to have a Master's degree and pass the National Qualifying Examination. CRNAs play a critical role, providing nearly all anesthesia services. They often work as independent providers, either in a facility or for an entire community.
CRNAs work in virtually all medical situations requiring pain and airway management. They work with doctors and anesthesiologists in a variety of settings, from surgical and obstetrical hospital departments to private medical offices, dentists' offices, pain management clinics and even fields of war. CRNAs are also needed in MRI units, cardiac catheterization labs, and administration offices for anesthesia departments.
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist education usually begins with a four-year undergraduate degree in Nursing or a related field. You must be a registered nurse in order to enter a nurse anesthetic Master's degree program, although it isn't necessary that you have an undergraduate degree in nursing, specifically. Many students who enroll in a Master's degree program have already gained experience working as a nurse in an acute care setting, such as a hospital.
The time it takes to earn your Master's degree can vary, although many programs indicate a completion time of 2.5 to 3 years. As a nursing graduate student, your program will likely focus on high-level core nursing courses, clinical courses and anesthesia specialty didactic courses.
In some programs, you begin clinical studies the first year, learning how to evaluate and manage a variety of patients. As you progress, you learn how to administer spinal and epidural anesthesia, and how to treat increasingly complex cases, from infants and children to adults with complicated medical problems.
CRNA training usually includes service at "placement sites" -- large, urban hospitals, primarily -- where students work with patients and become a part of the facility's health care team. The hospitals are chosen for the variety of patients they treat as well as the sophistication of the equipment they use for anesthesia.
During their clinical work, CRNA candidates often work in a variety of specialties, including:
When you've completed your studies, you must pass the national certification exam administered by the Council on Certification of Nurse Anesthetists.
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist careers tend to carry a great deal of responsibility. As a result, CRNA's typically earn much more than the average registered nurse. Specifically, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that Nurse Anesthetists earned an annual mean wage of $151,090 in 2013, although they can also earn more or less depending on where they are located and their level of experience. The BLS states that CRNAs in the following states earned the highest annual mean wage in the U.S.:
On the job, CRNAs often enjoy substantial autonomy and professional deference. In some states, many hospitals rely on nurse anesthetists for all their anesthesia care.
Many nurse anesthetists go on to specialize in a certain area, such as pediatric, obstetric, cardiovascular or neurosurgical anesthesia. Others earn special credentials in critical care nursing and respiratory care.
As a CRNA, one way to become prominent in your field is to join a professional organization, such as the International Anesthesia Research Society, the American Association of Critical Care Nurses or the Society of Ambulatory Anesthesia. The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists can not only help CRNAs find jobs and research opportunities, but it can also keep you apprised of federal and state legislative and regulatory matters that affect the profession.
Many CRNAs go on to careers as administrators; for example, running the anesthesia department for a hospital. This role enables nurse anesthetists to acquire additional skills in general management, personnel and resource management.
The future for certified registered nurse anesthetist careers is bright. According to the BLS, job opportunities for advanced nursing specialists -- including nurse anesthetists, nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and clinical nurse specialists -- should grow 31 percent during the decade leading up to 2022. These specialists may be particularly in demand in rural areas, where medical doctors can be in short supply.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm#tab-1
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, "Occupational Employment and Wages," Nurse Anesthetists, April 1, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291151.htm